April 25, 2007
Shinnecock Drug, Weapons Bust Shocker
Loaded handguns. Rifles. Shotguns. Heroin. Crack cocaine. Stolen property.
The massive amount of evidence crowding the table at the New York State Police barracks in Riverhead last week was a staggering testament to a pre-dawn raid on the Shinnecock Indian Reservation raid in Southampton last Thursday that resulted in what officials say is one of the "most extensive wiretap" investigations in the history of Suffolk County.
The early morning raid resulted in 14 arrests, including eight residents of the Shinnecock Nation. Arrested after being identified as the primary supplier of cocaine to the reservation and surrounding area was Awan Gumbs, 26, son of Shinnecock Nation Tribal Trustee Lance A. Gumbs. Also arrested was a law enforcement official.
According to Major Walter Heesch, Troop L Commander of the New York State Police New York City corrections officer Gary Morton of Queens was arrested last Friday by state police.
Morton was identified as one of those selling drugs on the Shinnecock Indian Reservation in the early stages of the seven-month wiretap investigation.
The bust resulted in the arrest of major suppliers of drugs to the East End, said Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota, individuals responsible for trafficking "12 or more kilos of narcotics on a two-week basis."
Two suppliers of large quantities of cocaine to Gumbs were identified as John A. Miles of Mastic and Terrill Latney of Mastic Beach, both of whom were arrested after search warrants were conducted at their residences.
According to Spota, the narcotics investigation was sparked after he received a letter in May from the Shinnecock trustees, asking for assistance with "serious matters" that were "impacting their quality of life" on the reservation.
"The people of the Shinnecock Indian Nation have repeatedly asked its leadership to take action against possible criminal activities on our lands, which threaten our way of life," wrote the Shinnecock Nation Board of Trustees in a statement after the raid. "The board of trustees stands with the Nation in its resolute determination to provide a safe, drug-free and crime-free environment for our children to grow and develop, for their parents to live in peace and for our elders to enjoy the fruits of their lifetime labors. We asked for the assistance of outside law enforcement agencies to help us accomplish these important goals."
What resulted was a joint effort of the New York State police, Suffolk County District Attorney's Office, the Suffolk County Police Department, the Suffolk County Sheriff's Department, the DEA, Secret Service, and the Suffolk County Probation Department that resulted in the execution of nine court-ordered search warrants, five of those on the Shinnecock Indian Reservation. The raid was the "largest coordinated law enforcement" effort in Suffolk County history, involving 120 state police officers, mobile response teams, and state police helicopters.
Some of the narcotics sales conducted by Gumbs, 26, took place inside his father's place of business, the Shinnecock Smoke Shop on Montauk Highway.
The bust, said Spota, resulted in the "dismantling of a major narcotics distribution network. There was blatant and open drug dealing and gun possession on the reservation."
Added one official, "The level of drug activity and firearms was alarming."
Although he did not give actual numbers regarding the level of gun and drug activity involved, Spota said, "This operation was massive."
During the wiretap investigation, one deadly incident was averted when investigators heard a member of the Bloods gang calling from Brooklyn in an attempt to purchase handguns with the intention of committing a murder.
The call was intercepted and the subject was arrested. Spota assured that the incident was isolated and there is no evidence of other gang activity being investigated.
And, added the district attorney, although his son was arrested, Lance Gumbs is not under investigation.
Thursday's raid was a unified effort, said Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco. "The amount of guns was absolutely stunning." Law enforcement, he added, is "not easy work," with officers taking their lives in their hands to protect the public.
The raid, officials said, was done in a "magnificent, swift" manner, with no gunfire.
The law enforcement official arrested, New York City Corrections Officer Gary Morton, 25, of Jamaica, who worked at Rikers Island, was arrested by state police investigators conducting the investigation for conspiracy in the second degree.
Morton, a member of the Shinnecock Tribe, assisted his uncle Michael Morton, who was arrested in the raid with the sale of heroin on the reservation. Michael Morton was allegedly the main source of supply for heroin on the reservation; the Mortons would also supply heroin to customers in the surrounding area. According to the New York State police, if Michael Morton was unable to conduct drug sales, he would contact Gary Morton, who would complete the transaction.
At last week's press conference, officials indicated that another member of law enforcement was being questioned. No arrests were made, however. A New York Post article reported that a Southampton Village Police Department officer resigned after the raid. When asked whether the alleged resignation was related to the bust, Southampton Village Mayor Mark Epley said, "It's an employment issue. I'm not going to respond right now."
"Today, our people walk with tears in their eyes knowing that some members of our Family will suffer, but hopeful that the scourge we have been living with is about to come to an end, our community restored to its natural beauty and balance," wrote the Shinnecock Nation Board of Trustees.
"Today the Shinnecock Reservation is a much safer place," said Spota.